The Athens Cannabis Ordinance – Issue 6

Posted on:

< < Back to

TACO – What’s on the Ballot

The Athens Cannabis Ordinance, or TACO for short, does not legalize or decriminalize cannabis, but it will depenalize it.

Right now under state law and city law, Marijuana possession is a minor misdemeanor with $150 fine plus about $100 court costs according to the Athens City Prosecutor Tracy Meek.

TACO was petitioned by Caleb Brown and other Athens’ residents because they think cannabis should be the lowest law-enforcement priority in Athens.

“With the cannabis ordinance, we’re trying to make not just a change to our local ordinances, but also a political and ideological statement about the will of the people and what needs to be changed to make our laws more just.” Caleb Brown, said.

Under TACO

TACO will reduce all fines and court costs for all misdemeanor marijuana crimes to $0, but marijuana will remain illegal.

People can still be arrested for smoking or selling pot and be convicted under state law. Possession of 200 grams of marijuana or 10 grams of hashish will be a felony offense. The cultivation of more than 200 grams of marijuana, gifts exceeding 20 grams of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia will also continue to be felony charges if TACO passes.

“It’s not going to heavily impact citizens in the Athens community, I mean we may have 25 citations in the last three years, if that.” Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle said.

State Code

This is where it gets confusing.

What makes TACO lawful is that the Ohio Attorney General and Ohio Supreme Court grants home rule power to cities to change fines for misdemeanors.

However, Athens Chief City Prosecutor, Tracy Meek says home rule does not affect Ohio University Police or the Athens Sheriffs Office because OU’s campus is state-owned property, and both OUPD and the Sheriffs Office can only cite under the state code.

“If you are caught in the city of Athens, the city police can decide to cite you under the city ordinance,” Meek said. “Then you would have this $40 court cost and that would be it. If you are cited on campus, it’s still cited under the state code with greater penalties.”

Captain George Harlow from the Ohio University Police Department says even if TACO passes OUPD will continue to cite under the state code.

“When we enforce laws we do so under the Ohio revised code, we don’t enforce municipal ordinances, so our posture would be unchanged regarding that.” Harlow said.

Moving Forward

Tom Pyle said he is aware that the law director’s office in Athens often strikes plea bargains with people who are cited for possession and has already amended marijuana possession to a disorderly conduct – (because students could lose their federal financial aid or scholarships if they have a drug charge on their record.)

Meek says the law department is not for or against TACO, but says you cannot legislate against mandated court costs and that no matter what it is still a drug offense that causes a lot of harm to people’s lives.

“Although the penalty is slight, you still have a drug offense and a drug offense has detrimental repercussions. In lots of aspects of life, not the the least of which is the FAFSA application for Federal Financial Aid. If you are convicted under the city’s new ordinance that would be a drug offense, you would have to self report “yes.” And then you would be ineligible for financial aid, which could be catastrophic for someone trying to go to college.” Meek said.

The Athens Law Director’s Office and Athens Police Department are not concerned with enforcing TACO, but believe it will create confusion for students who think they can smoke on campus.

Rather than speculate on what might happen, Caleb Brown prefers to look at what has happened in other places.

“One of the first cannabis depenalization ordinances in the country was put in place in Ann Arbor, Michigan over 20 years ago and that’s also a college town very similar to Athens. And people don’t lose their student aid there, its not a big thing, students are not always confused and getting tickets and losing their financial aid at the University of Michigan.” Brown said.

Registered voters can vote at the Board of Elections office or their assigned precinct.